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Addiction – how to help, not enable

Well-intentioned attempts to help a loved one struggling with addiction can actually plunge them deeper into the cycle of addiction. This is known as enabling. Here are some ways to help, not enable.

If you have a loved one that is struggling with addiction, you’ll be very familiar with experiencing the feelings of quiet desperation to sheer terror as they self-destruct with drugs and alcohol before your very eyes.

You’re scared that this behaviour will kill them and you’d give anything to make it stop.

Anything to help them clean up their lives and make a fresh start.

The hardest issues to face are, “how do I cope with this?” and “what can I do to help them?”

Some actions we take as loved ones, such as promoting rehabilitation to your addict are very helpful. 

But unfortunately other well-intentioned attempts to assist the addict can actually plunge them deeper into the cycle of addiction. These attempts are known as enabling.

It can look very altruistic from an outsiders’ point of view – for example, parents of an addict may pay their rent so they can “have a bit of breathing space and a chance to get ahead” or cover for their absenteeism from school or work.

Unfortunately, it’s the worst thing you can do as it shields the addict from accepting the consequences of their addiction and makes it easier for them to remain actively addicted to their substance of choice.

Therefore it’s important to know the steps you can take to actively help, rather than inadvertently enable them.

Here are seven ways you can help an addict, rather than enable them.

#1 Do the help/enable litmus test before doing anything for your loved one

If you are helping an addict you are doing something for them which they probably could not do for themselves, even if they were not using drugs.

Enabling on the other hand, means doing something an addict could normally do if they were unaffected by drugs.

#2 Don’t be the “Plan B”

Due to the unrelenting nature of addiction, addicts will often find themselves in trouble. 

It’s common for them to rely on the support of loved ones to bail them out of whatever predicament they find themselves in, be it being short on money to pay the rent, forgetting to meet work obligations or getting in trouble with the law.

As long as an addict knows that they have a “Plan B” backup to sort them out in times of trouble, they’re free to carry on practicing their addiction because, having a “Plan B” around removes the consequences of their addictive behaviours.

#3 Let them know why you’re no longer their “Plan B”

Addicts can be very manipulative and play on the emotions on those closest to them in order to maintain or perpetuate their addiction.

An addict may also blame you for their troubles.

You may already have experienced such cries, as “you don’t love me because you won’t help me,” or “you don’t support me” and the gold standard, “it’s all your fault”. 

Clearly let your addict loved one know that while you love and care about them, you cannot support them in active addiction with enabling behaviours.

#4 Employ a tough love strategy

While it may seem like we are helping as we extricate our addict loved ones from the messes that they make due to their addictions, we are in fact giving them more leeway to further indulge in addictive behaviours.

Although it is painful to watch, stepping out of the way of an addict’s behaviour, and allowing them to experience the fallout from it, is an act of love.

Yes, you will see them suffer, which is hard to cope with, but you’re paving a path that makes it harder for them to remain in active addiction.

Suffering provides a gateway for the addict to begin to realise that they need to change.

#5 Let the law work as is

While it’s easy to protect an addict by giving them money and shelter, it’s not as easy to protect them from the law and neither should you.

Often a criminal charge associated with drug use or dealing drugs can be enough to propel an addict into realising that they need to go to rehab.

Some addicts rack up several charges before they seek help. The Hader Clinic Queensland specialise in getting addicts into rehabilitation rather than jail.

#6 Seek the support of others

Fellowship groups that support addicts’ loved ones such as AL-ANON and Nar-ANON can provide support, comfort and fellowship for those families who are struggling to allow their addict members to fail.

Additionally, the groups provide valuable education around the disease of addiction and can provide tools to help you cope with an addict’s behaviour.

It is optimal if all family members can attend meetings – that way you can develop a strategy together that stops enabling the addict, but supports them, should they choose to commence recovery.

#7 Encourage them to seek treatment

At opportune moments, encourage an addict to seek treatment.

Help them to understand that while recovery can be hard work, it is possible to live a life free from the tyranny of drugs and alcohol.

Support the wobbly steps they may be taking in this direction.

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